Houses are key to building a fairer and greener Edinburgh – Lorna Slater

Lorna Slater, Scottish Greens co-leader. Photo: John Devlin.

As an MSP, one of the issues that voters contact me the most about is housing. Far too many people in our city pay exorbitant rents, far too many are in cramped and overcrowded housing, and far too many are unfairly penalized by irresponsible landlords.

I want to help all of these people and I will always do my best to do so. But if we are serious about addressing housing issues in Edinburgh and beyond, it will take real, fundamental change to what has become a broken market.

Rent in Edinburgh is already higher than the rest of the country, with a 2019 study finding that with an average monthly rent of £ 1,100 it is £ 300 more expensive to rent in Edinburgh than in any other Scottish city . And, with the average price of housing being six times higher than the level of average wages, the market is becoming more and more inaccessible to many people.

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This is why the Edinburgh Poverty Commission concluded that “there is no solution to poverty in Edinburgh without solving the housing and homelessness crisis in the city”.

The first step in solving the crisis is to introduce a new deal for tenants, with appropriate regulations. Many of the worst landlords treat their tenants the way they do because they know they’ll get away with it. It must stop. We need a strengthened registration process for landlords and more resources for local authorities to support tenants and enforce standards.

Housing is a human right, but families in Edinburgh have to wait an average of three years to obtain social housing. Everyone should have the right to good quality housing at an affordable price. Social housing has a key role to play in making it a reality.

But it wouldn’t be fair to focus on the situation in Edinburgh let alone short-term rentals, where stricter regulations are vital. Right now they’re out of control, with much of Edinburgh being taken over by AirBnB. In some parts of our city, entire stairwells are used for short term rentals.

The pandemic has made many of these issues even more relevant by reducing incomes and placing many more people in precarious situations. And it has implications for our physical and mental well-being, especially in an era when more than ever before we are working from home and turning our kitchen tables into desks.

Last year my Green colleagues got a ban on winter evictions, but we were unable to extend it for the duration of the pandemic.

In June, I supported an intervention by Living Rent activists to prevent the eviction of a family in West Lothian. I was happy that I was able to participate in the successful intervention, but it shouldn’t have happened in the first place. There will be similar deportations all over the country that we are not aware of.

As we emerge from containment, we must ensure that warm and affordable housing is at the heart of our recovery. The place we live in is so fundamental to our lives and our well-being. No house can be left behind if we are to build a fairer and greener Edinburgh.

Lorna Slater is a green MSP for Lothian

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